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Supporting midlife women enter the ad industry

A free programme for women to join the ad industry

Age discrimination is one of the biggest hidden bias in advertising. To get more midlife women to join the ad business, British advertising industry is launching VisibleStart, a free training programme for midlife women.

Behind the initiative is advertising company WPP, Brixton Finishing School and the Uninvisibility Project with a mission to promote midlife women.

Advocates and workforce experts have long highlighted ageism as a particularly difficult form of discrimination to address. A survey of U.S. professionals aged over 40 by consultancy WerkLabs showed that the phenomenon is more often encountered during the job search process than in the workplace.

The ad industry, in particular, is facing questions about ageism, and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s  IPA Agency Census has shown that women and older people working in advertising have been disproportionately hit during the pandemic.

The VisibleStart Initiative

WPP, Brixton Finishing School and the Uninvisibility Project are launching a free online training programme for midlife women who want to enter the advertising industry. 

The initiative VisibleStart seeks to provide a gateway into adland and to change the narrative of midlife women in advertising and media. 

The training programme will consist of live confidence-building events alongside an online learning platform designed to train the participants in digital media skills. In addition, WPP is aiming to employ 20 of the women who complete the course by the end of the year. 

The programme will launch in London, with plans to take it nationwide in 2022, and is open to women over the age of 45 from all backgrounds.

“There are many talented midlife women out there who we are missing out on so we are keen to play our part in helping them get back into the workplace or realise their potential in our industry,” WPP’s chief executive Mark Read pointed out.

Age discrimination in the ad industry

But back in August 2020, in an earnings call, Read had ignited a firestorm over age discrimination in UK’s biggest agency group.

“We have a very broad range of skills,” he said, “and if you look at our people – the average age of someone who works at WPP is less than 30 – they don’t hark back to the 1980s, luckily.”

Critics pounced and even though Read later apologized for his remarks, he had unintentionally highlighted a longstanding reality; that beside the executives who lead the largest networks, advertising is “a young person’s game”.

Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the U.S. the average age of a marketing manager is 39.7, compared to 45.8 for all managerial roles, while WPP’s most recent annual report showed that, in 2020, 34% of its employees were below the age of 30 and 73% was under 40 years old. Only 9% of WPP’s workforce was over 50.

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